Riding a bike over Colorado National Monument in dark is a real treat
Colorado National Monument is without a doubt one of the most spectacular places in the world to ride a road bike.
The steady climbs between sheer cliff walls, the three short tunnels, the rolling terrain over the top, the snaking switchbacks and the silky smooth road offer cyclists of all abilities a challenge and a reward.
The suffering endured while climbing the east side to Cold Shivers Point is but a remote memory as you cascade down the west side with just a slight flick to the brakes to control your speed.
There is something about the place that is exhilarating and just makes me want to ride. The pain and exhaustion from pushing myself to the limit in a strange way gives me joy and strength and I can’t help but smile when the wind cools me off as I scream back down into the valley on less than a half inch of rubber.
But there is something about riding it at night that is really exciting.
I have been waiting for a warm and clear full moon night since last fall. In May, some friends and I rode in the cold, but we did not see a wisp of the moon and we had to use our lights.
With summer finally here and the forecast calling for clear skies, my excitement level increased. I was able to convince my wife, Mandie, and three buddies to come along with me for this adventure. Actually, my wife insisted and crashed our little boys party.
We loaded the bikes and a cooler of cold beer in the car and drove to the visitors’ center on the west side so we would not have to worry about traffic.
The moon was predicted to rise at about 9:15, but clouds and gale force wind gusts were making it look as though we might get shut out again. We were getting a bit discouraged until we saw a bright light over the eastern horizon.
Someone said, “Is that the moon?”
Within minutes the grandeur of Mother Nature was revealing herself. We unloaded the bikes and started riding.
We rode quietly along the rim of the monument heading from west to east; our goal was the high point, which would be about 22 miles.
Mandie set an uncomfortable pace and we soon were breathing hard and the legs were filling with lactic acid. She must have been hurting too, but she must have thought that as the only girl she did not want to slow us down. I looked at my computer and we were rolling at close to 20 mph along the rim.
The male ego is more fragile than the soil of the monument, and no one wanted to tell a 42-year-old mother of two to slow down.
After about 15 minutes I got the front and brought the pace down to the leisurely level we all wanted.
As we began the climb, the clouds returned and obscured the moon. We quietly continued the climb as the darkness engulfed us.
The darkness gave me an almost surreal feeling. It was almost as if I was experiencing the ride but was not really a part of it.
There is also something about the darkness of the night and the quiet that really heightens the senses. The smell of the desert sage brush filled our nostrils and we could feel the humidity in the air.
We continued riding past the radio towers and climbed to the high point, where we began our ride back. Our initial plan was to ride to Cold Shivers Point, but it was a good thing we cut our ride short.
The winds had picked up and rain began to fall. As we descended back toward the ranger station, we rode slowly, because the gusts were blowing us around like rag dolls.
With about two miles left to ride, the wind abated and the clouds lifted. We were in awe as the canyon walls were washed in moonlight and we cast long shadows on the cliff walls. Our ride lasted about an hour and a half and we saw only four cars along the route.
Please remember, Colorado National Monument regulations state that bicyclists must have either lights or reflectors on their bikes.
The cold beer was refreshing and well-deserved. Three other cyclists were embarking on the climb as we packed up the cars about 11 p.m.
We all had grins on our faces like toddlers at Christmas and cannot wait for the next full moon.
What a great place to live: The Tour of the Moon on a Full Moon night. It doesn’t get much better than that.